Tag: Open world

Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – Goodbye is Spectacular: A Review From Scroo

Wow guys, I've been chomping at the bit to play Blood and Wine for a long time now and my goodness was it ever worth the wait. CDPRed has put a story together set in a large and beautiful world that gives us fans a pretty solid 30 hours of game play; and they call it an expansion. This, folks, is what expansions should be. An actual fully built, big addition with new content that really matters. Blood and Wine could have just as easily been sold as a stand-alone title and would have been just as satisfying to play. All the props to CDPRed. Read more

The Division first day: Bungie take out your notebook

The Division Character SelectionThe Division, Ubisoft’s latest open world extravaganza launched yesterday and we are finally sinking our teeth into the gameplay experience. Ubisoft decided to not release the game to the press early with the logic being this is a multi-player experience and without adequately populated servers it would be hard to judge the quality of the final release product. Originally intended as a full-fledged MMO before being scaled back and given the shaky starts to the last few Ubisoft products that involved large scale online components (The Crew and Assassin’s Creed Unity) this was a risky proposition on their part.

For the most part it appears to have paid off, there were two betas leading up to release that were highly populated (Ubisoft provided numbers showing six million users during their open beta). For the most part, so far, the servers have remained stable. I’ve experienced a couple of instances of queues getting onto the server and one crash where I had to drop out of the game and log back in (luckily it returned me to my party which was at the final boss in a mission). Other than that the game has been fairly solid over the course of gameplay starting at 5am and ending at 10pm on launch day.

The gameplay itself is nothing new, none of the core mechanics changed between the betas and release the only change being the unlocking of crafting and higher level powers as well as access to more quests. The game itself is a mashup of Gears of War cover mechanics, Assassin’s Creed open world play with toned down parkour and Destiny loot cycles. Nothing is new in this game but that’s not entirely a bad thing, the gaming community is often caught up in the cycle of reinventing the wheel. Ubisoft have iterated on their own already-refined technology, applying it to a larger palette.

While the Snowdrop engine has been shown to be capable of some beautiful graphics, the level of detail has been dialed back. However, the Xbox One version is still getting some of the best visuals in a game to date. This is made obvious during the very first moments of gameplay.

After a brief cinematic you are shown your character’s face reflected in a car window, you have a handful of customization options available (not nearly as many as traditional MMO gamers would appreciate or even offered by the closest cousin of this game Destiny) you still get an opportunity to make your character feel your own and it’s done in a way that is unique compared to the generic “generate your character” screens found in many other games. Once past this introduction you play out a handful of scenarios in possibly one of the most elegant tutorials I’ve seen in years. Playing in a sliver of Brooklyn you get to learn the core mechanics of gunplay, map traversal and interface management before being dropped into the hell on earth that is post Dollar Flu Midtown Manhattan.

The gentle start in a controlled environment allows for familiarization with the core concepts of how things work in The Division. As I mentioned earlier, the game is a third person cover shooter similar to Gears of War. In fact the entire mechanic may have been ripped out of one of the Gears titles with even some of the triggers for movement aping those titles. You have two traversal buttons with A attaching yourself to cover and B using a navigation button. Tap A to attach to whatever cover you are next to or point your character at a spot of cover and hold A to sprint and slip into cover. B lets you leap and vault over and around cover keeping your character moving. Shooting is likewise similar to the Gears series with certain scope attachments allowing you to slip into first person zoomed shots. You have the ability to combine three weapons with one of the three being a dedicated “sidearm” slot the other two are entirely up to you based on your style of play.

Once you are dropped into Midtown Manhattan you are presented with a near 1:1 representation of the city stretching from just south of Central Park to 14th Street. For THE DIVISION Hell's Kitchenthose thinking this is a small area, the 1 to 1 ratio makes this a rather vast playground which includes landmarks like the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square and the Flatiron Building as well as neighbourhoods like Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Having recently visited the city the attention to detail in capturing some of these landmarks is amazing. While not perfect it’s still very impressive and truly felt like I was visiting the city not just some generic urban centre. What makes this even more impressive is you have access to much of the complicated and maze like New York subway system as well as the ability to access many of the buildings in the city.

Ubisoft have given us a really impressive sandbox to play in but what do you do once you are there? Well there are a series of core story missions that advance your game and move you forward in the plot (a middling techno-drama that you would expect from a Tom Clancy novel) as well as several events that pop up around the city like storming a rioter base, rescuing hostages or hunting down a bounty on a criminal. As you complete these events you earn resources you can use to add improvements to your home base all the while leveling up your character allowing access to more powerful equipment and abilities.

There are a couple of standout features that really make this game engaging, the first is the seamless match making. The various missions or quests that you have scattered around the city are best tackled in a group. Having a handful of team mates really allows for some fun tactical thinking and it’s always nice to have somebody there to revive you should you be gunned down. You can very easily search for a team or join an existing team right from the map and you are teleported to the start area once you join the team. The next compelling twist on the open world multiplayer pastiche is the Dark Zone, this is an area of the city which was so badly hit by the Dollar Flu that it is an Escape From New York style city within a city walled off and with no rules. This area holds the hardest missions and the greatest rewards but it’s also open season where not just the environment but also the players may be out to get you. I’ve previously experienced this during beta and it was quite the challenge. For the most part players obeyed the Golden Rule but every once in a while a pack of wolves would gun you down. The exciting challenge of this is when they did you would lose XP (Dark Zone XP is tracked separately from that of the main game) and the Rogue Agents (as they are called in game) would be able to steal your loot. The only way to get your loot out of this heavily infected area is via pick up locations scattered through the Zone which is basically announcing to everyone around you AI foe and Rogue Agent alike that you are there ripe and ready for the plucking.

This led to some great emergent gameplay during the beta where I would help other players fend off AI opponents as well as the occasional rogue agent. The only real down side being in a hot firefight if you are not good at checking your targets you may accidentally be marked as Rogue. When you do go Rogue a bounty is posted on your head (increased based on your kills) and it’s open season for all non-Rogue agents to hunt you down and kill you. There’s not a lot more satisfying than catching the guy who shot you earlier and getting a little well-earned vengeance.

This is where Bungie really need to take note, this game most closely resembles a third person cover based version of Destiny. Destiny’s largest problem has been party match making, missing from many of the missions and the jarring load screens where you sit in space waiting for your team to all load into the map. This kind of break in gameplay doesn’t exist in The Division and matchmaking never took more than a handful of seconds during these early days. Additionally the entire conceit of PvP (aside from the Sparrow Racing or the House of Wolves event) in Destiny always felt jarring and out of place for the in universe fiction that they set up, for the most part the PvP just seems separated from the gameplay proper with little reason to exist outside of padding. The Dark Zone region of The Division gives players an actual compelling reason to put themselves at risk and also a real tangible reward for “going Rogue”.

The Division The HighlineWhere the game is failing in these early hours is the one area that they are least able to tweak at this point which is the setting and the story. While the setting of a vibrant and varied city like New York with its near photorealistic representation is visually stunning it also makes for a very grounded in reality game. This means your character model can mix it up with some cool urban threads but at the end of the day he or she is wearing a hat, a scarf, a jacket, a shirt some pants, boots, gloves and a backpack. Hardly the Space Armour of Destiny with its Future filigree and glowy bits. The same applies to your guns, so far aside from a DLC sawed off shotgun that you can use as a sidearm everything seems sort of "generic gun". Yes you can customize and modify the guns with attachments which are reflected in game as well as apply different paint schemes to them but in the end they all blend together without any of the character you find in other games like Destiny or even the Call of Duty games with their over the top character customization and “future weapons” found in the last two entries.

This early into the game, it’s hard to judge how well The Division will fare, but it’s certainly a fun ride so far. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic scenarios like The Road or Escape from New York this may be the game for you.

Destination Sol: A Review From Scroo

Hey everyone. Do you love AAA games with cutting edge graphics? How do you feel about stealthing your way down a hall, hacking your way in to a locked door and stealing classified documents? Is third person shooter action what you live for? Well if you answered yes then this is definitely NOT the review you came to read.

Title image_2

If you're still with me then join me for a trip through a game that this review is actually about.

Destination Sol is a free to play, randomly generated, 2D space exploration and combat rogue-like game. It's got a retro style and as the player you'll be flying around a vast open space sandbox and blasting away at various enemies while looting items and trading with space stations. And there are no microtransactions!

Currently it's available through Steam as a PC version and is also available for free on the Google Play Store as an Android Mobile version. And for a totally free single player title it's pretty cool. Let's check out the PC version.

This title is fairly easy to just pick up and play, but a quick tutorial covering all the basics is available from the start menu.

tutorial screen
Click to view knowledge dropping at full size

You'll start as small space ship at a space station in one of two star systems and are immediately free to explore the space around you. Once you open your map and zoom out you'll quickly notice that the game world is pretty expansive and fully accessible.

While in the map view you'll be able to see your position in real time as well the rest of the available area. Just about everything you need to see is marked, space stations, planets, asteroid belts and quick travel points are most prevalent but you may also see other ships.

However that doesn't mean the map is perfect. Missing are the abilities to create waypoints or markers of any kind; and in an open world it would be nice to have the option to point yourself in a direction. You're also unable to drag the map screen around to see objects off-screen.

Click to a big space map in full size
Click to a big space map in full size

Conveniently, the map also marks what areas are considered too strong for you by flashing skulls on their positions. Who has two thumbs and didn't pay attention to skulls? Oh that's me. I decided on a whim to fly to a near by ship that was flashing as a skull. A clear red flag, warning me to turn away before it was too late. As I neared an actual warning came up on the screen that said bluntly "Dangerous Enemy". Just before I became a smoldering pile of scrap on the ground I thought to myself, "I can handle it. I have the hang of this game already". Afterwards I respawned and went in a different direction.

 

Skulls are bad mmmk?
Skulls are bad mmmk?

There are no missions in Destination Sol, so happily you can pick a direction and just start out exploring. Soon you'll find yourself  sailing through asteroid fields and battling space pirates who will provide you with currency and items as your reward for their defeat. Speaking of asteroids... Anyone remember the classic arcade space blaster Asteroids? That's how this game controls too.

Now, in Asteroids if you hit something (say, an asteroid perhaps) you blew up and it was GG thanks for playing. In Destination Sol your ship is a bit more durable so it takes some significant speed to blow you up in a collision. It can happen though and if it does...GG thanks for playing.

It's not all as hardcore as sounds though since the only penalty for death is a loss of some currency, and your respawn will always put you back at your original starting space station. As a result there could be some downtime in flying back to your place of demise to recover money lost or items left behind. Not to mention you might run in to more space pirates or get sidetracked by something shiny...

Like a planet. Yes, Destination Sol allows you to seamlessly descend into the atmosphere of an extraterrestrial world. There are three types of planets to explore and you'll know when you're near one because a bar-like feature consisting of several blue dots will appear on the outer edge of your screen. Perhaps just for the sake of argument we'll call it an atmospheric indicator. As you near a planet these dots will move along the edges of your screen to determine your position in relation to the planet and will also glow brighter. Remember that tutorial image at the beginning of this review? Who am I asking, of course you do. In the upper right corner of that image is one of these atmospheric indicator bars.

combat screen
Click to see some combat full size

As you enter the atmosphere you're greeted by gravity, clouds, a sky, some pirates, and even a day night cycle of sorts. It's a small detail overall but I really liked that there was a light and dark side to each world.

In my experience the pirates on planets are far more dangerous than most of those in space. At least early on. They have better weapons, faster ships, and bigger shields. Plus they may be backed up by gun turrets on the ground. But if you can manage to get by them there's almost always a trader on the surface with upgrades, repairs and ammunition.

planet trade screen
Click to see me limp to the trader at full size

Unfortunately this about where planetary exploration hits it's peak. I found planets to be pretty small and once cleared of evildoers and looted for every item and monetary credit it was back to space with me.

We haven't talked about items and weapons yet so let's get in to that a bit. Destination Sol advertises over 50 items and weapons to find, buy, and equip. Your ship will begin it's journey with a basic set of gear to get your started and it's all visible in the upper left corner of the HUD.

Items are pretty self explanatory. For instance, your shield will absorb the damage before it fails and your ship starts taking physical damage. In which case you'll see your hit points drop, if they reach zero, GG thanks for playing. Fortunately for you it's possible to buy bigger shields that absorb more damage before failing and thus avert tragedy a bit easier.

Also available are repair kits. These kits will self-use when you become idle for a few seconds and repair a total of 20 damage before being used up. Only need to repair 13 damage? That's ok the kit will stay in your inventory until it repairs 7 more.

Your ships armor will increase your damage resistance allowing your ship to take punishment when your shield inevitably fails under pressure. Higher levels of armor are available for purchase to increase your damage resistance further.

trade screen
Click to see trading at full size

Weapons are varied in both number and effectiveness. Your starting weapon is the good old blaster. As a starting weapon it has infinite magazines meaning it can reload forever. Reloading takes time and takes place only when you're out of ammunition, and only automatically.There is no manual reloading in Destination Sol. A point that I wasn't fond of at all. I don't know how many times my ship needlessly exploded because I couldn't prepare for a fight by reloading before hand.

Other weapons, ballistics, missiles, bombs, mines etc. all take ammunition that you'll have to buy from a trader or space station. In other words, no infinite reloads. Different weapons are more, or less effective vs. shields or ship armor so there's a modicum of strategy involved in what you may choose for a certain situation. Also weapons come in two categories: Light and Heavy. Your ship will show you which is applicable.

Herein we see the balance of the game. The Guardian ship has a light weapon slot, which is able to rotate automatically like a turret to fire. It also has fewer hit points. Whereas the Fighter has a heavy weapon slot which cannot rotate, meaning you use your ship to aim. However it has more hit points allowing it to face danger head on a bit easier. Categories are clearly marked in the trade screen. Combat itself is handled, very simply. Point your reticle at the enemy and fire. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

Click image to see full size
Woah, Doc... This is Heavy!

Destination Sol gives you the availability of piloting up to 6 different ships, a few are in the image below. Some of these ships have more than one slot for weapons, and each has it's own unique special ability. The guardian ship has the ability to temporarily slow time and comes with one light weapon slot. The larger Hunter ship has the ability to teleport in battle and comes with two heavy weapon slots.

My favorite ship so far is the Hunter class. It's big, intimidating looking, and I put two heavy machine guns on it to rule space with a hale of lead of fire!

You'll have to buy ships from traders and outposts, and they can be pricey. They are worth the buy though and they'll use items you currently own.

Click to see the full size ship exchange
Click to see the full size ship exchange

Also usually available at traders and outposts are mercenary allies. Hiring one of these mercs can be a little expensive but they can be very helpful and each has their own abilities. Plus during boss battles they double as bullet sponges. Meat shield anyone?

"Boss battle" is actually a loose term here. There are no true bosses in Destination Sol, at least none that I'm aware of. I never ran in to anything like that in my play time. What they tend to be are usually just larger more heavily armed and armored ships that give greater rewards for their defeat. But they show up during exploration, not in an encounter type situation with a large health bar and narcissistic monologue.

My own first sighting of a boss ship was while I was exploring a planet and suddenly, there from above, was a relatively enormous pile of guns blasting away at me. I managed to win the fight by the skin of teeth and collect a veritable treasure trove which I immediately unloaded on a trader for a significant pile of cash. It was very satisfying.

So far I see no end to this game. Which is great on the one hand because you can just play and play. In these days of 10 hour titles costing $60 it's refreshing to have free title with a play time as long as your attention span. On the other hand there's only so much exploration and pirate battling one can do before starting over.

Which brings me to my final subject here. Destination Sol, is classified as a rogue-like, hardcore, arcade, space RPG. A mouth full to be sure. Now don't box this in to the same category as a more familiar title like FTL. The similarities are few if any at all. I don't see much as far as an RPG element goes in Destination Sol. Though you're able to aquire and equip gear and items there's no leveling system. There is no dialogue, and there are no quests. Not even a story line to follow.

But, it is very arcade like, and Rogue-like in a way. The arcade elements are pretty obvious when you play. The game is only lightly physics based and there's just that old school joystick and two button feel. Like I need to be dropping quarters in a machine.

Rogue-like elements seem to mix with the hardcore. You have what equates to as infinite continues. Die and you'll respawn and move on more or less the same as you were (minus a few credits), but the game state is never saved. Your ship's build is saved when you exit the game, but the world is different every time you start. From the main menu you'll have the option to start over from scratch or go ahead and use your previous ship with your items etc. I guess you could argue this as being rogue-like since it's a way of having a legacy... to a point. I personally feel more comfortable calling it an arcade space exploration and combat game.

So in conclusion, Destination Sol, is a free to play title with no micro-transactions. It's pretty well put together with a few things maybe needing some polish. For instance I know I didn't mention above in the review but this game has no music. I really think it could benefit from a soundtrack. But it's supported on Steam with updates so perhaps we'll still see improvements where they're needed.

Would I recommend Destination Sol? So I kind of have mixed feelings about some portions but yes, I would recommend it. Why, you ask? Well dear reader, if you're in to a retro style of graphics and a simple character controller I'm sure you're going to dig this. And possibly more importantly, it's free and it's fun.

System Requirements for Destination Sol, are as follows:

Processor: 1 ghz or better

Ram: 512 mb or better

Graphics: Support for OpenGl 2.0 at least is required

Sound card: Any

Hard Drive Space: At least 100 mb free